So you've got a camera - yay! Now, how do you take good photos? 

There is no definitive rulebook to good photos but just like in any creative pursuit, there are some basic principles that you should know so that when you do bend or break the rules, you're doing it with knowledge of exactly what you're doing. Picasso once painted like this -- Cubism was a choice, not because he couldn't do anything else. 

Disclaimer: I am largely self-taught photographer and these are general tips gleaned from personal experience, not expert opinions. Always happy to learn more - leave me a comment if you have things to add!  

Most of these photos were taken at the H Influencers Instameet last weekend, aka. the first time I've been to Manly in probably more than half a decade - thanks for letting me take your photos, @neon.syrup, @misstostarica, @giftoftwentyfour and @mar.che~


  • Focus and sharpen your photos: Always zoom in to check you've gotten the focus right and sharpen your photos a little before sharing on Instagram or the web to increase clarity. If your camera has video mode that allows you to electronically zoom in on your screen, use that and then manually adjust your focus. 
  • Go for your second idea: Usually, your instinct is to take the most predictable/obvious version of a photo first when you encounter a subject. Listen to it, then think again. Try different angles, 'zoom in' by focusing on part of the object/detail or 'zoom out' by capturing the wider context. Case in point: Klaus Frahm literally just went to the other side of the stage. 
  • Line your horizon: This just makes my eye twitch but make sure your ground is straight and use any straight vertical line (a wall, a pole in the background) as reference. If you're going to shoot at a diagonal, tilt it a couple more degrees so it looks intentional, and not just that you've forgotten to straighten your images
  • Your camera is not a machine gun: If your style of photography is to throw out a 'Hail Mary' ad then take 100 photos at burst mode, maybe reconsiderCheck your settings, then shoot a few times (a short burst) and check again. If your settings aren't right (shutter speed too slow = photos all blurry), 99% of the captures are pretty much useless and you waste time trying to find a needle in a haystack

For portraits: Communicate! A large part of achieving a good portrait is communication and direction and something I often see beginners struggle with: they'll just point their camera at the model and start snapping away in silence while the model just stands there and is expected to do their thing. If you've ever been on the receiving end as the subject, you'll know how uncomfortable that can be. I often babble random stuff like 'YOU'RE SO GORGEOUS SWEETIE' but usually that means the model ends up laughing at me and people look the best when they're relaxed.

If your model looks great, TELL THEM - literally 'you look awesome right now, just stay right there and keep still!'. Sometimes I do a countdown ('three two one') so they know what to expect, sometimes I do a fake countdown (because people tense up sometimes on a proper countdown) and then snap after they start laughing or relax. Make sure you are showing the model the photos off the back of your camera periodically and be specific about your feedback (eg. 'this angle is really great for you, so just make sure you're always tilting your face towards my camera'). 

Learn to recognise when your model is nervous or unsure of what to do and give feedback when they're doing something right. Sometimes the best moments aren't 100% perfect. 

  • Train your eye: Developing a 'sense' for good or bad photos is really important and that comes with studying photos you like. I often use my phone to take photos of cool shapes and 'photo potentials' I spot in daily life, usually architecture. They don't necessarily get posted (several above aren't even edited) but it's good to train your eye to recognise potential and 'lines' when you see one

Above (left to right): hard light, backlit golden hour light, soft light and silhouette in low light


Photography is essentially painting with light and lighting will make or break your photo. Wenjie Zhang does a great breakdown here and Andrew Gibson runs through different types of natural light here. This is a super helpful guide to studio portrait lighting that I'm going to try out.


Use natural light to start:
It's the easiest when you're starting out and you should learn to tell the difference between harsh light (read: Aussie summers at 12PM) and soft light (which achieve different moods). If you want the 'golden hour' glow, be prepared to either get up really early or stay out as the sun goes down. If you're eating and want to get a good food shot, try to sit by a window.

Avoid your phone flash and auto camera flash if possible: Phones and automatic camera flash without diffusers tend to produce extremely harsh, hard light that washes people out and makes food at restaurants look awful (seriously, don't use flash if you're taking a photo of your food in a dark restaurant. Just don't. Eat your food. Come back at lunch.)

For people using external flashes they can control: I learnt recently to weaken your flash power (ideally with a diffuser) and increase your ISO to get a more evenly lit shot, instead of that clubbing photo spotlight effect. Saved my life : D 

Adjust your white balance: If you're shooting in tungsten (yellow) or fluorescent (blue) lighting, make sure you adjust your white balance in editing! So many people upload yellowed photos that could be adjusted to look better just with a slider!

Avoid spotlights: Those spotlights built into ceilings? Don't stand under them or get your guests to stand under them unless you're going for the 'horror movie ghost' effect. Even lighting is the key to a good portrait photo~


  • Rule of thirds, white space and look for shapes: Art 101 rules. Rule of thirds is a good starting point and always pay attention to the textures, colours and shapes in your photo. Human eyes tend to enjoy symmetry and leading lines. Try to 'frame' your subjects with the background or make sure the lines in the background complement your subject's pose.

    Flatlays mean that everything is a subject so rules of composition and white space apply! Make sure things are evenly spaced apart and pay attention to ensure the colours work together and one section isn't dominating another. 
  • Pick a subject: This sounds so obvious but it's easy to forget as a beginner! This tends to be worse on phone cameras because everything is in focus, meaning you don't even have a nice bokeh (blur) in the background to tell you what the main 'point' of the photo is. The eyes should know where to focus on, or should at least have 'lines' that it can follow and focus on if there isn't an actual object (or person) standing in the shot
  • MIND YOUR BACKGROUNDS: Busy backgrounds are tricky because they can distract the viewer from the subject of the photo. Try to avoid backgrounds that are multicoloured (in non-complementary shades - bright neon green next to red - aka. most graffiti tunnels) as they can look busy and chaotic. Find backgrounds that have complimentary colours to your subject if possible and try to limit your palette to a handful of colours. 'Clean', solid backgrounds help to emphasise the subject.  

If your subject is the foreground, the background should complement it - in shape, colour and light. If the background is the main idea, consider using silhouettes in the foreground to highlight it, or make your subject smaller to emphasise scale. 

Exclude, crop out or photoshop out any objects in the background that may distract the viewer from the subject. If your subject has dark hair, don't put them against dark backgrounds that might hide/cover that shape.